Spanish women shine in dark year for men

Tue Dec 16, 2014 4:53am EST
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By Iain Rogers

MADRID (Reuters) - In a year when the men's soccer and basketball teams flopped on the biggest stage and Rafa Nadal's season was wrecked by injury and illness, it was the women who helped protect Spain's reputation as a nation of sporting excellence.

The standout performers were swimmer Mireia Belmonte, who set two world records at the short course world championships in Doha this month, and badminton player Carolina Marin, who pulled off a huge upset to beat Chinese world number one Li Xuerui and win the women’s singles title at the world championships in Copenhagen in August.

Their achievements were recognized at Monday's annual awards presented by As sports daily, along with the rhythmic gymnastics team, who successfully defended their world title in the five clubs category in Izmir, Turkey in September.

Spaniards have been spoiled by success over the past decade, with the men's soccer team claiming consecutive European titles, with a debut World Cup in between, and Nadal rising to the top of the tennis rankings and bludgeoning his way to a record nine French Open crowns.

It came as a massive shock when Spain failed to progress beyond the group stage at the soccer World Cup finals in Brazil, while the basketball team, who had home court advantage and were expected to at least make the final in Madrid, were eliminated by France in the last eight of the World Cup.

Nadal did win at Roland Garros but was unable to compete for most of the year and announced in October he would miss the season-ending World Tour Finals because of appendicitis.

Belmonte and Marin each name Nadal as an inspiration, citing his never-say-die attitude and athletic prowess.

Like Nadal, Marin is a left-hander and when she collapsed onto her back on the court after stunning Li it was almost a carbon copy of one of Nadal's triumphant celebrations.   Continued...